A Scandinavian-style home clad in blackened wood and offering generous views onto the landscape: Plant Prefab has just announced yet another stunning residential collaboration. In the past, the California prefab builder has worked with Brooks + Scarpa, Yves Béhar, Kieran Timberlake and – one of the pioneers in sustainable prefab design and a founder of SCI-Arc – the late, great California-based architect Ray Kappe. Plant’s latest project is its first with a firm outside of the U.S. Koto is a UK practice with a dedication to prefab architecture that was founded by designers Zoe and Jonathan Little and architect Theo Dales.
“The team is united by a passion for Scandinavian design and friluftsliv, the Nordic concept that time in nature promotes spiritual and mental wellbeing,” according to Plant Prefab. That Nordic vernacular is most immediately obvious in the choice of wood as a primary material and in the exaltation of generous views onto the outdoors.
The Koto LivingHomes come in two versions: LivingHome 1 features two volumes – the top one boldly slotted into and cantilevered over the base unit – and features two bedrooms and one bath, in 1,148 square feet; LivingHome 2 has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and “ample shared living space” in just over 2,000 square feet.
Both are “designed to net zero standards” – with passive-house measures such as cross-ventilation as well as built-in features like “ultra-efficient heating and cooling systems, smart energy monitoring, LED lighting, recycled insulation and drywall and low-flow water fixtures.” The generous use of naturally carbon-sequestering wood, inside and out, also adds to the homes’ green cred. Koto’s designs, in full, are priced at between US$533,800, which is just below the median home price in California, and US$830,400. (Of course, those quotes do not include the cost of purchasing the building site.)
The focus on sustainability is ingrained in Plant’s DNA. The company started as LivingHomes (which is also the name for many of its current residential offerings by various architects) some 14 years ago and designed the first-ever house that was rated LEED Platinum. It has worked with Make It Right in New Orleans and on an Indigenous reservation in Montana. When it comes to collaborations that Plant Prefab CEO Steve Glenn refers to as “elite platinum level” there is a tacit understanding that energy-efficiency is at the core of the program. “Everyone we’ve worked with, it’s very important to them, also,” Glenn tells Azure. “We have shared values and experience in this domain of sustainability, which is a key criterion for us.”
Even for architects designing their own projects to be manufactured by Plant Prefab, the company provides design guidelines that are driven by its ability to source the most environmentally friendly materials. “We, as a factory, are spec’ing building material by volume – framing, windows, doors, insulation and so on – so we’re responsible for how we source them.”
While it might seem an inopportune time to unveil a prefab house design, the Koto LivingHomes – along with Plant Prefab’s other offerings – are ready and available for purchase. Last month, as California began responding to the coronavirus with numerous lockdown measures, the state deemed residential construction an essential business – especially in light of the region’s homelessness crisis and dearth of affordable housing.
When it comes to affordable housing, prefab construction presents advantages – from cost-efficiency and speed of deployment to the ability to address irregular building lots – many of which were addressed by Nest, the toolkit that Brooks + Scarpa designed for developers of multi-residential projects. “We’re a small company,” Glenn says, “but we’re trying to do everything we can to be involved in increasingly more affordable housing.”
In time for Earth Day, the California manufacturer of prefab residential architecture has released renderings of the Koto LivingHomes, designed by the UK firm.